For more than 450 years, Catholics in the Americas have venerated Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe – Our Lady of Guadalupe. On Dec. 8, El Teatro Corazon, Santa Clara University (scu.edu), and San Jose’s Sacred Heart Parish (sacredheartsanjose.org) collaborated to bring the colorful pageant, “La Virgen del Tepeyac: The Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe” to the Santa Clara Mission Church, as they have now for 21 years.
With a dedicated volunteer cast of actors, singers, dancers and instrumentalists, Teatro Corazon delivers a performance that is both polished and impassioned, with colorful costumes and traditional Mexican music and Aztec dance-making the production a feast for all the senses. Arturo Gomez, director of Teatro Corazon, directed the performance, with music direction by Carlos Baba, and Danza Xolotxochil directed by Altagracia Orendain.
The 12-scene pageant tells the story of a Native American, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, who, according to tradition, on Dec. 9, 1531, heard a voice calling to him from Tepeyac, the sacred hill of the Aztec Earth Mother, Tonantzin. There he saw a vision of a lady calling herself “ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God,” with features similar to his own and speaking to him in his own language. She directed him to tell the Roman Catholic bishop to build a church on the hill. The bishop dismissed Juan Diego skeptically.
But the lady continued to appear, always with the same instructions for the Bishop: build my church. In the fourth vision, she told Juan Diego to pick roses he would find at the spot where they first met and bring them to her in his tilma – shawl – and present this to the bishop as a sign. Although it was winter, Juan Diego found the flowers.
When the bishop unrolled it, the shawl not only held roses; it was had an image of the lady in a flowing blue star-covered gown, with a crown on her head and a crescent at her feet. This time, the bishop began building the church.
The name “Guadalupe” may come from a Nahuatl word, Coatlaxopeuh, meaning, “Who Crushes the Serpent.” The Woman described in the Book of Revelation – the first century apocalyptic narrative concluding the Christian Bible – is frequently shown crushing a dragon or serpent underfoot. Like the Lady of Guadalupe, she has a crown of 12 stars and the moon at her feet.
Juan Diego’s story was first written down from oral tradition in the 17th century, after the Lady of Guadalupe’s veneration became popular – despite continuing clerical suspicion that it masked continuations of pre-Columbian religion.
By 1700, however, the Christianity planted in American soil began to assert its own character, and the Lady became symbolic of Spanish-American identity, religious expression, and aims for political independence. Juan Diego’s vision came 10 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, in the midst of a small pox epidemic, as well as forced conversions and active suppression of the indigenous religion.
That’s what makes it such an enduring symbol, regardless of the controversy about the historicity of Juan Diego and his visions that continues. A central figure in European Christianity, the Virgin Mary, comes to the powerless – not the powerful – as one of those powerless people, bringing a message of hope and promise. By 1900, the Catholic Church had proclaimed the Lady of Guadalupe “Patroness of the Americas.”
Both Miguel Hidalgo and Emiliano Zapata’s armies pictured her on their flags in their fight from independence from Spain. In 1895. Pope Pius XII named Virgin of Guadalupe the Patroness of the Americas.
In our own time, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) called their “mobile city” Guadalupe Tepeyac. In 1995 they were given a Guadalupe statue to carry with them in their their nomadic campaign for local autonomy, democratic change and indigenous rights
Fittingly, this performance was dedicated to the 43 Mexican students kidnapped last September in Iguala, Guerrero Mexico, as they were going to a demonstration against the Mexican government’s discriminatory hiring and funding practices.
For information, search Facebook for “Teatro Corazon- La Virgen Del Tepeyac.”